I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the Good Samaritan Hospital at approximately three in the afternoon. My mother, a soft 20-year-old woman, birthed me into a world that I would later learn to give language to. My grandmother stood at her bedside while my grandfather sat in his car. (My grandfather often sits in his car—a side effect of coming home from war.) But my father was not in the room.
We moved to New York. Growing up in The Bronx was a different experience. In Cincinnati, we didn’t have fire hydrants that became waterfalls or music blasting from any given window at 1 o’clock in the morning. Cincinnati was forest and small town and subtle racism, while The Bronx was loud and fast and made me who I am. The change gave me plenty to be curious about, but one thing I never questioned was why my siblings had a different dad or why my stepfather never quite felt like home.
Our small two-bedroom apartment was a world unto itself. While my siblings were riding bikes on Walton Ave., I instead lost myself in words. I locked myself in the walk-in closet and imagined a love like that of a father’s. But I got older, and the apartment that was once my world could no longer fit everything I was becoming.
When I left for college, without knowing it, I was searching for my father. I looked for his smile in that of strangers, in wild men with crooked intentions and smooth tongues. I looked for his refuge in the arms of those who only needed my body for the night. I looked for him… and I kept looking.
While in graduate school, my grandmother told me that he wrote my mother a letter, that they were lovers once and his absence was not intentional. My grandmother also gave me a name and a state: Richard Freeman. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A few months ago, I found his address and phone number. I found a part of me.
I wasn’t sure—I’m not sure how to process it, how to accept that I have another parent.I am thirty now. I have seen many parts of the world, touched many stages, met many people. But for all the names I have said out loud, his is one I am still very shy about. I should call him, but what would I say? How much language is there between us?
Can I fit all the embarrassing moments or school trophies or heartbreaks into a phone call? Can I say “lupus” or “kidney transplant” and have his support? Poetry is the language of life, I know this, but I don’t have the language for a father I have never known. All I have are questions: How do you like your eggs? When was the last time you cried? What part of the world would you love to see?
Maybe he has a way with words, and I got that from him—the thirst for illustrating my feelings about everything. The way I scrunch my face when I am focused. The quirkiness of me… Instead of making that call, I will write him a letter, like the one he wrote to my mother. It will read:
I do not hate you. I am an ocean away with your name etched into my conversations. I hope you receive this. I hope we can chat one day. Maybe talk about the years we have missed. Until then, thank you for the time we did not share. Let’s make up for that